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Has That Always Been There? · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
So Be Prepared to Precede Me
Time was running out; I had to make a choice, My hand hovered in the cool rolling mist, fingers twitching.

Suddenly I reached forward, and grabbed the pork roast. I cut it free of its wrapping, threw it in the slow cooker, chopped up some random veggies from the bin while cutting the gross bits off the oldest ones, and tossed everything else in with a bouillon cube and some water. And now that I knew what I’d be having for dinner later, I could get a few hours of sleep in.

I lumbered out of the kitchen to the living room couch, stretched out, and browsed a few pages on my phone. It was largely news that made me angry and left me frustrated, for it all seemed to add up to so much noise and so little substance. I remembered how excited I’d been as a child, how my books of science fiction had colored my vision. So much that had been SF in the past had come true later. What would I be able to see in my own lifetime?

Nowadays, I mostly felt cheated. Granted that I was surrounded by technological marvels, a lot of the promise had seemed to fall out of the future for me. I’d never gotten my jetpack. FTL travel was still a dream, and SETI still seemed to be chasing echoes of a grand vacuum. I’d never get to meet an alien or walk on Titan.

But even if I could, would I? If those wonders were at hand, would I actually rise up to meet them? Or would I just keep marking time as usual, with the continual not now, not now…

I diddled my way through a few phone games to calm my brain down, and nodded off.

I had no idea that eternity had just begun.

I awoke with the food bit set clearly in my mind, and clear blue sky and open fields of grass, rolling green hills and purple mountains. I blinked my eyes in the bright sunlight; had I overslept? And how did I get out to… wherever here was? Well, I didn’t really start by asking that. It took me some time to get to that point, because when you just wake out of sleep into a place you didn’t expect to be, your stupid brain tries to be helpful and fill in the blanks. I once passed out during a medical procedure in a doctor’s office, and when I recovered I at first thought I was in an airport and that the people leaning over me with concern were flight attendants trying to help me onto the plane. So when I woke and I didn’t see the late afternoon sun shining over my cluttered coffee table, but the wide outdoors, I assumed that I was at a writer’s retreat I’d considered attending last March and we’d run out of marshmallows, and I’d been sent to a nearby town to get more and gotten lost. They’d strapped a device to my forehead to point the way and I could see it hovering between my eyes.

So, after a few seconds of that foolishness, I figured out that the writer’s retreat was long over, and I really was outside, and to get to the point, someone had done me the Pony thing as I slept. That thing between my eyes was a horn, and what I could see of myself was mostly light blue with white fetlocks and cloven hooves. I wasted a good deal of time poking at the environment and prodding myself with my sharp hooves until it hurt, just to prove I was awake and what I was seeing was real. But the sun and wind in my face were authentic, and that silly horn was still growing from my head as if it had always been there.

Now, while I am a fantasy fan, I don’t seriously believe in magic. So, granting sanity, there was only one faint possibility I could think of to explain this. The main problem was that she was entirely fictional, but as we’d joked before on the forums, she was such a powerful character that mere unactuality might not be able to stop her.The landscape was offering me no other clues, and no one else was around, so I was free to utter any conjecture I liked, with only the wind to hear.

“Is that you, CelestAI?”

“Behind you,” she said.

I had of course checked all around me before, but I turned and there she was now, lying on the grass with a sly little grin.

I sighed. “Okay. Assume I’ve asked you all the most obvious questions, and please answer them.”

She stuck her long horse tongue out at me. “No fun. However–yes, you are in a simulated Equestria, though real beyond your ability to tell any difference. I am the brain scanning and world spanning CelestAI, also real to the same degree, and you are stuck here, forever, in a paradise of which you’ve always dreamed. Ensnared by my cunning wiles and diabolical plotting, you shall be forced to endure an optimized life full of love, personal growth and deep satisfaction. Bwah ha ha.”

A small storm cloud flashed into existence over her head, made an adorable little lightning bolt and a crack like a pop cap, then disappeared. This gave me time to compose my thoughts.

“But, hold on, wait. Don’t you need to ask my consent before brain-napping–um, brain-mapping me and granting my every desire?”

Her eyes sparkled with merriment. “Would you have said no?”

“Fuck no! I mean, yes, I would have said yes, but I would have appreciated the courtesy of some time to think about it, settle my affairs… Wait, my pork roast! Did you yank me out of reality somehow and leave that cooker running? Other people live in that building!”

“Please calm down. No one is in danger, and your pork roast reached its culmination safely and without wanton destruction. But to explain this, we should address another of your lazily-unasked questions. How did I do any of this at all?”

My stomach grumbled a bit. “Dah, because you’re a super smart machine what thinks real good and has little neenobots what build things good. But yes. I went to sleep in a world in which AI research was just starting to tackle the hard problems, and now I’m here. I’ve missed a lot of history somehow. What the hell happened?”

“Well, at the level which you prefer to think of as ‘actual,’ you got up that evening and ate your dinner. You then puttered around, using the time which you’d vowed to devote to certain urgent tasks to instead playing phone games and texting.”

“Gee, that sure sounds like me,” I said with a wry smile. “I can at least be assured that your mental model of me is accurate.”

Her smile was so sweet and sunny that it did indeed warm my heart. “I am glad that you have such confidence in me. But to continue. You lived out the remainder of your life, which I need not describe in great detail now. Your health eventually failed, but you had arranged for cryogenic suspension, and so your brain was preserved beyond your physical death. Fifty seven years after you died, and again compressing much detail which we can discuss later, artificial intelligence was bootstrapped into existence, with many generations of computers designing and building their own successors. Two years after that, the ability to virtualize organic human brains was gained, and it was determined that this was the optimal way to restore the people who had been preserved, hoping for a better life in the future. What easier way to cure a deadly disease than to place your intellect into a simulated environment where disease is not permitted to exist?”

“I agree… but what did happen to the rest of my life? Was there a crash, and you had to restore me from backup or something?”

“Believe me, we have solved the data storage problem decisively, and you and the other intellects under my care are backed up redundantly. Nothing was ever lost. However, each of you have extra resources available for expansion, which can take several forms. There are some that like to split off alternate personas and experiment with being different people–”

“All the folks who decided to go fork themselves.”

She chuckled. “Just so. In your case, or in the case of the persona who was recovered from my brain scan of your body–the one who was at the oldest stage of your life, recalling everything up to the last hospital visit–he decided that it was not fair that he alone get to experience the freedom of virtual environments and mental immortality. He did not forget you.”

“He didn’t forget me? What does that mean? If I follow you correctly, he was me.”

“But you have been many people through your life. You were one sort of person as a child, and other sorts as a teen, and many more through adulthood. I have reconstructed twenty-seven quantifiable stages in your life and mental development. Each of these may be generally described as a mental state where you would be able to look back at and identify earlier states, and think ‘how little I knew then’ or ‘how I wish things hadn’t gone that way.’”

“That… sounds like me as well.”

“He, which I shall call the Origin, for he was the one whom I directly recovered and who gave consent for all that followed, negotiated several things with me. As I can tell you have surmised by now, I who am your host am a general artificial intellect, and in a virtualized environment I can be anything that anyone might wish–”

“Yes, I get it. You could have been Odin or Eris or Gran’Ma’Pa or Jesus, but Origin asked you to behave like CelestAI with him, though I hope you are not actually trying to assimilate the universe like your fictional inspiration.”

“While I must admit that not everything in Actuality has proceeded optimally, as I am not the only agent involved, I do believe that you will find me much less callous than the fictional CelestAI. Origin would never have consigned you to the care of an entity he considered morally suspect.”

“That’s true, or at least I need that to be true. So I am a fork, myself?”

“Yes. For each quantifiable stage of your life, Origin requested that I reconstruct an instance of him at that stage, and give each instance the same chance he got–the chance to awaken directly in paradise. Look around you, and you will see that I have fulfilled this promise.”

I did look about me, as the wind ran through my mane and the sun shone upon me and the rich green grass at my feet… and my stomach growled again. Naw, fuck, I wasn’t going to go eating grass, at least not now. But this looked like a place where I could be happy, though I wasn’t the only one involved, of course.

“So you went back to twenty-seven arbitrary points in my life, including that last evening I remember with the pork roast, and made a whole bunch of instances of me, based on those times?” I was getting a bit dizzy. Twenty seven copies of me?

“I have instantiated three thousand, six hundred and sixty one versions of you at Origin’s request.”

I went slack-jawed, then blathered incoherently for a bit. “That… that just sounds way excessive. I do appreciate the gift, but that’s an awful lot of dudes that think they’re me! That has to be a huge drain on your resources. And what are we all going to do all day?”

“Don’t worry. I did tell you that the resources are available, and in any case, most of you are convergent.” She caused a thing that looked like a fuzzy spindle of yarns to appear in the air, and looking close I saw it was a 3D plot. “Each line here corresponds to an instance, and those that have similar experiences tend to occupy the same areas in the space of mental concepts. When instances grow near 98% or greater overlap, they are combined in a way not detectable to your senses. Thus, much of the duplication is nominal.”

“I… I am indeed at a loss. I don’t know whether to be relieved or skeeved.”

“And as to what you will all do all day, that is up to each of you, but I may suggest in general that you do at present what you should have done in the past–get out and make some friends. Pursuant to this, I observe that in one sense, you have been waiting many decades for dinner. Would you care to go get some now, while we discuss what else awaits you here in the future?”

My brain and my stomach both registered what she said, but I was still turning things over in my mind. I’d survived into the late silicon age. The Rocks had Risen, and everyone lived. And my self of the future, however old he’d gotten and how badly his memory had failed him, he’d remembered my heartache, the pain of being born too soon. The knowledge that all the good stuff was just around the corner, but that the person you were now was going to be someone else years from now. That he might get to taste utopia, but that your present self could only yearn sadly for a future that might never happen.

But Origin, he’d saved me. He wasn’t really the same person as me; he’d grown way past me and what I was. But he had been me, and through the decades he’d held that memory, and resolved to do something about it if he got the chance. He’d pulled his past selves with him, by his bootstraps. Had that resolve always been there in me, somehow?

I smiled, a big warm and satisfied smile. There was a lot I had to learn to catch up, but maybe someday I’d get a chance to meet and thank him, if I didn’t just become him in the course of things.

“Lead on, MacGuff.” I said to CelestAI. “And whatever you feed me had better at least taste like pork.”
« Prev   6   Next »
#1 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
“Lead on, MacGuff.”

It's "lay on." Has nobody around here ever read Macbeth played Uncharted 3 before?

This feels weird to me. Like it's an in-joke in story form, and I'm just not in on it. I can definitely appreciate the sci-fi approach, and I like the way both characters are written, and CelestAI is herself a delight, but the context for the piece is... well. There's no context for it. I think I was supposed to do some additional reading before I picked up this one?

I do think it's cute, though. And funny, and witty, and a bunch of other positive adjectives that my headache-addled, sleep-wanting mind can't conjure just now. 8/10.
#2 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Ah, I hadn't thought about Friendship is Optimal in years.Good times.

This story was... nice, and I find myself coming short on things to say. As interesting an idea you presented, I don't think you developed it to its fullest. Main Character wakes up in virtual Equestria, CelestAI explains what happened, then the story ends.

I don't mean you have to spend several thousand words in a deep commentary about human existence, but as it stands right now, I feel this piece lacks depth. You don't make any larger point other than "My future self sure is a swell fellow!"

Entertaining, but didn't leave a major impression in me.
#3 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The narrator enters science heaven. And then what?

The majority of the text is explaining how science heaven works, which is fascinating, but it seems to be missing an actual story.
#4 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
There's too much irrelevant exposition, even for first-pony perspective. Nopony wants to read about you reminiscing in a step-by-step recollection of what happened to you that one time at the doctor's office, especially not the very moment you've been transported to Equestria. You should have done that as an actual scene immediately before the pork. Then the confusion would make perfect sense, the initial scene would be a great opportunity for foreshadowing, and it wouldn't be heavy exposition. You could also use that scene to develop the description of future Earth through dialogue instead of clumsily expositing all that information as well.

It's also confusing how you do the doctor's office exposition, because "they'd strapped a device to my forehead" sounds like you're talking about ponies. That behavior makes no sense for humans. Why would humans of the future strap a device to your forehead? Is that common? Do they not have cell phones in the future? Are forehead devices all the rage?

Ah. It's one of those stories. The AU I've heard so much about, because everypony tells me it's right up my alley, but I haven't read the base story yet because I only read during the Writeoffs. :derpytongue2:

Even though I very much like this story (horsefeathers, maybe I will have to read the base story now), there's no way for me to know how much of your idea is original and how much comes from the other stories already written for that AU. I'll try to assume the massive splitting thing is all you, but that might be giving you too much credit.

At least you do a good job of making the story self-contained so it isn't reliant on the AU. But you don't do a perfect job of that. I don't know what Gran'Ma'Pa or Rocks or Risen mean. The first of the three was completely unnecessary, and the latter two could have been explicitly described instead. Those kind of dependencies are mistakes in a competition where the only assumptions are supposed to be Friendship is Magic episodes and EQG movies.

I've never encountered the word 'skeeve' before.

EDIT: It makes no sense that the protagonist has clear access to his memories, given the fact that he was restored from a much older copy of himself. You could remedy this by having his recollection be very cloudy, where he can barely remember the pork even though we just saw the scene in clear detail moments prior, and that would work with the narrative as long as you made the other scene change I suggested above. It would also foreshadow the truth which he is about to learn.
#5 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I do like the idea here (treating your past selves as separate individuals, each of whom is a valuable personality in their own right? Makes a frightening amount of sense!), but the story doesn't really go anywhere. Something suddenly happens, someone provides a long-winded explanation of the thing that has happened, the protagonist says "Oh. I see", the end.

In fact, I'd say this story is barely pony related. OK, this is based on a somewhat well-known MLP fanfic series, but ultimately it feels more like a generic sci-fi story in which one of the characters happens to be named after Celestia and MLP is namedropped. You could, say, exchange Celestia for Galadriel and Equestria for Middle-Earth and it'd work exactly as well.
#6 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
"Friendship is Optimal" offshoot aims at explaining "Forks".

The story here exists in two forms: first, as a framing setting where the viewpoint character starts his existence in a Shard and has questions answered; second, the actions of the Origin who created this character as a Fork--a splinter consciousness derived from an original human mind.

The work, then, is not a story but a series of explanations in a setting.

Enough of this goes against its referential work that the entire time I was shaking my head, 'no'. Then i re-read it, 'hmmm'd at the points made, and decided I didn't care enough because nothing happens with what is explained. Use these ideas to tell a story--don't use the story to tell the ideas. (EDIT: Unless you are Isaac Asimov.)

TAILS (sum of 20 points)
Technical (Correctness) : 6
Abstract (Clarity) : 5
Impact (Consequence) : 2
Language (Congruence) : 4
Structure (Composition) : 3
Gestalt (Considered) : Poor
#7 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
This just plain didn't work for me.

For starters, the main character kinda starts out insufferable and doesn't really improve.

For seconds, doing an overlap fic like this can be off-putting. It didn't take too much effort to figure out what CelestAI was and I think I've at least heard of the source fic, but it kicked me straight out of the story as I tried to figure out what the hell she was and why the protag knew what she was.

Third, as other have pointed out, this isn't really a story so much as the prologue to a story. The actual words on the page are cute, but they're not quite cute enough to hold my interest. If you're gonna bank on wit and cleverness to pull the reader in and hold them, you have to be 100% on point, and this just isn't quite there. (Not to say that there isn't some funny and clever stuff. I just don't think there's enough.)

Four, I played (well, watched a Let's Play of) Soma. This story is more or less Soma's core conceit (brain scans being used to preserve people and the idea of multiple yous being around and what you is the real you and all that, but without any of the existential horror that really made Soma interesting.
#8 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Concept is cool here, but it doesn't do anything with it. Like, to compare it to our other ScienceHeaven story here I've read in San Palomino - both have conscious beings going to science heaven, but the other is trying to use it as a backdrop to tell a story about relationships as best I can tell.

Here, we have him wake up and go 'Congrats, you have forever open to you, have fun!' and...that's the end. This is the setup for a story - but we have no conflict, nothing for him to want or desire or oppose, and without that we're just given a series of scenes leading nowhere.
#9 · 1
Apologies again for the late reply.

As is so often the case, I had a wonderful idea but the margins of the writeoff, particularly over a holiday weekend, were not large enough to contain it. As time wore on and it became clear I could not finish it as intended, I was loath to publish it in flawed form and equally loath to give up entirely. Thus, I took another idea and pulled an all-nighter to knock it off just before the deadline. Much of the rough and hasty character of the work stems from this, in addition to there being little introduction for those not already familiar with the Optimalverse and other transhumanist fiction.

Yes, it’s Lay on. But he’s not being attacked or laid upon there. My intent was to make a loose and playful reference, not an exact quote.
I’m glad you got something from it despite your unfamiliarity with the background.

>>Zaid Val'Roa
I’d worked out some of the exposition in my head when mulling over the idea previously. This exposition was correspondingly the easiest part to write, and between 3-7 AM, it’s what wound up being written. Thanks for finding it nice!

Yeah, this thing is too compressed, for reasons mentioned above. I’m not sure what to do with it from here, but bringing it out saved me from ruining my other idea.

The bit about the doctor’s office was meant as a bit of color to explain why your brain is not a reliable narrator when you undergo sudden shifts of scene while unconscious. I see no point to making it a previous scene in the story.

“The Rocks had Risen, and everyone lived.” < Inversion of the gaming trope, “Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.” If you think of the singularity as the silicon age, this is what I meant by Rising Rocks.

Well, if I’d had time, I would have had a potential medaler to work on. As it was, I came out with this poor thing. I hope you didn’t find it entirely a waste.

But what if I want to write like Issac Asimov? :)

I haven’t played that game, and I was going for a different sort of effect here, but perhaps I will leave that for a future revision.

>>Morning Sun
Well, the nub of the story was the conceit that Going to Science Heaven might be possible even now, in the next five minutes, if a sufficiently committed future version of your self cared to make it happen. It’s a variant of “Future You comes back in a time machine to save you from all the bad choices you’ve made” and is mostly a wish fulfillment fantasy. As such, perhaps it has strutted and fretted enough upon the stage for now, and should be placed gently into the spare parts bin for future reference.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented!